DIEZ: Busy weekend for racing fans

This is another weekend when race fans risk overheating their TVs and DVRs. NASCAR is running Nationwide and Sprint Cup series at Talladega, the streets of Long Beach host both the IndyCar and the American Lemans series, the NHRA four-wide Nationals run at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and Formula 1 completes its far-east swing with the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans will be pulling for their hero to add to his five Talladega Sprint Cup wins on Sunday. Junior has been out of victory circle for 100 races now, the longest winless streak in his career. On the plus side, he has more momentum this season than in recent years, with four top ten finishes (including second at Martinsville) and Steve Letarte on the pit box. Junior is also racing in today's Nationwide race, which will undoubtedly help him with tomorrow's race strategy. He is not alone, however, in the first Talladega outing for the series' new race car. The two most recent Talladega Sprint Cup winners, RCR drivers Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick, are also in the Nationwide race, with Bowyer sitting outside the front row. And 2011 Daytona 500 winner, Wood Brothers Ford driver Trevor Bayne, is also racing in both series this weekend. But this year's dominant Ford team may face a challenge at Talladega. Roush-Fenway Ford drivers Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth have both posted Cup wins this season, and the team put all four cars in the top seven last weekend at Texas. But a Roush Ford has only won at Talladega once since 1997. However, as everyone knows, Talladega is always a wild card, and the "big one" can scramble the field and give any driver a shot at victory.

Last week's IndyCar race at Barber Motorsports Park validated Will Power's 2010 road course performance, as he again dominated the field. Tony Kanaan switched setups before the race, and rocketed from his dismal 24th place starting position to a sixth-place finish. Look for Power to be the driver to beat tomorrow at Long Beach, and watch for another stunning performance from Tony the Tiger.

If you're a Formula 1 fan but not a night owl, you will definitely want to record the Chinese F1 race tonight to see if Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel continues his domination of the 2011 season. Vettel won the first two races from the pole, and was quickest in practice. Qualifying took place after deadline for this column, but he is the odds-on favorite to take his third pole, and probably his third victory, of the season. So far, McLaren looks to be the best of the rest, with Lewis Hamilton finishing second in Australia and teammate Jensen Button in Malaysia. And Team Renault drivers Vitaly Petrov and Nick Heidfeld shared the final spot on the podium in the first two races. The Ferrari team has had difficulty getting grip in the new Pirelli tires, and the F150's have so far performed more like their namesake Ford trucks than a Formula 1 car.

I spoke with Mackena Bell on the phone yesterday. The Carson City native is starting her third season in NASCAR's Drive for Diversity program, running in the Whelen All American series for Revolution Racing and sharing a car with another female driver. It is Revolution's second season as a race team, and Mackena is very positive about the improvements made in their second year, and very happy with her car and her crew chief. She is very busy, working double shifts as a waitress in between working out and racing, both on the track and online. The team requires all drivers to do an hour of I-Racing a day, and Mackena has just gotten a steering wheel, seat, and pedal setup for her computer. In her first outing at Greenville-Pickens Speedway in March, she qualified third behind two former track champions, but was sidelined with mechanical problems in the race. Her best finish so far is a second place, but she is confident she will get her first stock car win soon. She has promised to keep me posted on her progress this season.


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